In those days most of the racehorse stables were behind or alongside houses near the racecourse. Each stable usually had a pony to keep the thoroughbreds calm and help lead the racehorses to track work each morning. I guess most were geldings, though I had no idea about such things at that time.
All this meant that, through Dad, I had access to ponies to sit on, sometimes led by Dad as he rode a horse through the streets of Caulfield, Brighton and even Oakleigh. There is little doubt that the streets of suburban Melbourne had many fewer cars on them than today.
Yes, I could rise to a trot, but did not know how to ride on my own.
One Sunday afternoon Dad, known around the racecourse as ‘Jack the Banker’ as he worked in the Victorian State Savings Bank during the day, decided it was time I learnt to ride by myself. To this end, he took me and pony that belonged to a trainer to the end of a sandy lane which ran along the side of the racecourse. He put me on the pony, instructing me to ride to the end, turn around and trot back. Fine, except when I turned the pony at the end of the lane it bolted back to the stables, throwing me off as it turned!
‘Get back on and try again’ he instructed.
This went on several times before I got the idea that I had to hold the reigns firmly, that it was my job to control the pony and trot back to Dad. Can’t say I was a quick learner, but I did learn to never give up and to listen to Dad’s instructions. Mind you, pony club was not part of Dad’s life, so not encouraged for me. I’m sure it would have been beneficial for my riding skills.
Throughout my teen years I spent many happy hours on a Sunday afternoon cleaning ponies from the stables, then riding them around Caulfield Park or along the middle of Dandenong Road to Oakleigh to see my school friend. Both of these activities are now banned, firstly because it is not good environmentally for the park and secondly it is now too dangerous in Melbourne’s traffic.
Moving to Benalla meant I had my own horse. Dad took up training racehorses and I was able to ride horses that were too slow for the track but were large enough to take my weight. Many a day was happily spent Trail Riding with the Benalla Club – all because Dad took me on that ride down “Sandy Lane” and told me to get back on that pony until I could control it.